Saturday, 12 February 2011

Tahrir Square: from Frying Pan to Fire?

This morning, after the great celebration in Tahrir Square, it is time to clean up after 18 exhausting days of occupation, protest, bloodbath, cheering, and the trampling of millions of feet. Today the square was a tourist attraction, with cars parked up and down the 6th October Bridge- illegally, of course, but there is no police in sight- while the families, with young kids on their shoulders, snapped photos of the square below.
Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who launched the original Facebook uprising, summed up the general feeling: euphoria, yes, but relief most of all, at a terrible danger averted. “Hamdillah ala salamatek ya masr,” he said. “Thank God for your safe delivery from danger, Egypt.” And the peril had been great indeed: civil war. What many people abroad did not understand, when they heard Egyptians express their fear of the police, particularly that branch of it called “national security”, is that there are three police servicemen for every military man. Less than half a million in the army, nearly 1 ½ million in the police services. If things had gone the wrong way, the two could have clashed.
So what we are left with today is the lesser of two evils: a ruling military council, but only in the interim to free elections and a civilian government. At least that is the optimistic scenario. Egypt’s military is sitting on 60 years of entrenched privileges, and is unlikely to relinquish them. But a hopeful sign is that Defense Minister Tantawi, the head of the council, is sharing top billing with a civilian, the head of the Supreme Court of Egypt, Judge Sirry Siyam.
But there are many of the older generation in my family and elsewhere who remember that when the coup of the colonels in 1952 drove out King Farouk, they had cheered, and went on cheering while General Naguib took the reins. It was only when it became apparent that the widely-respected Naguib was only a figurehead, soon ousted unceremoniously by Colonel Nasser, did they realize that they had gone from the frying pan to the fire.
But today’s young people, the generation of January 25th, are confident in their power to bring about change and control events. They have no fear of the military, nor of the revolution of wild expectations that they have unleashed, particularly among the poorest and most disenfranchised. Today, at least, they have no doubts, and are celebrating their day of victory. They have reclaimed the flag of Egypt for themselves, and they are bursting with pride.

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